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Roads (Investment)

Volume 218: debated on Thursday 4 February 1993

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4.8 pm

With permission, I should like to make a statement about the Government's plans for investment in national roads in 1993–94. I made a statement to the House on 15 December about the Government's record level of support for expenditure on roads by local authorities. I am now pleased to be able to announce similar good news for the national road network of motorways and trunk roads.

I am authorising the start of construction works in the coming financial year on 41 new road schemes. Assuming the remaining statutory processes are completed, we will have started all the schemes by March next year. They represent new investment in the nation's infrastructure of over £1·3 billion. I am arranging for a list of the schemes to be included in the Official Report and made available in the Vote Office.

Expenditure on new construction and maintenance of national roads will reach £2,092 million in 1993–94. This is the highest level for over 20 years in real terms and one of the highest ever. In a difficult year for public expenditure, this level of spending clearly demonstrates the extent of the Government's commitment to capital expenditure and to investing in the nation's road and—as we showed on Tuesday—rail infrastructure. The sum includes £550 million for the capital maintenance of roads and bridges, and £1,369 million for new road construction.

The 41 new starts are in addition to the substantial construction programme which is currently taking place. We have 51 schemes under construction, mostly started in the past couple of years. During 1993–94 100 miles of new or improved roads will be opened to traffic.

One aim of the programme is to tackle increasing congestion on the core motorway network: we will be adding a fourth lane to 18 route miles of motorway, including the M25 in Surrey and the M62 in Greater Manchester. The north-west will also see the start of construction on the long awaited remaining link on the M65 around Blackburn. The biggest single project to start will be the upgrading to motorway of 13 miles of the Al between Walshford and Dishforth in north Yorkshire, part of the A1 motorway between London and Newcastle.

Another key objective of the road programme is removing through traffic from our towns and villages. Nineteen bypass schemes will be built across the country, taking heavy traffic away from streets in towns and villages. In addition, on-line improvements will be started on 11 other routes, including the A66 northern trans-Pennine road, the A 11 to Norwich, and the A27 south coast route.

I am particularly pleased that we will now be able to start work next year in tackling some of the worst bottlenecks in London through a programme of nine junction improvements and other schemes. Taken in conjunction with the red routes network, which will also come on stream from 1994, this is a sensible, cost-effective and environmentally friendly response to congestion in the capital.

All these 41 new schemes will bring substantial economic, safety and environmental benefits to road users and the country as a whole. They are particularly important in helping to reduce the costs of congestion to industry. The value of the benefits from these new schemes in terms of accidents avoided and time savings to road users has been assessed at £2·5 billion. That is before any allowance for the net environmental gain achieved by reducing urban congestion and taking traffic away from town and village centres. All the new schemes have, of course, been subject to full environmental assessment and have been designed sensitively to fit into the landscape as closely as possible. This is how we aim to minimise any adverse environmental effects; indeed, we can sometimes reduce the environmental effects of an existing road with a new scheme.

The £550 million to be spent on capital maintenance is a 12 per cent. increase in real terms. I will be announcing the details of the maintenance works before the start of the new financial year, but I can confirm now that sufficient

National roads New starts for

1993–94

Region

Road number

Scheme name

Total works cost 1 £ million

Miles

NorthernA66Stainmore—Banksgate113·7
North WestM62Junctions 14–17 widening132·5
North WestM65Blackburn southern bypass (Contract 1)5613·1
North WestA6M—M56 link (Central section)162·2
Yorkshire and HumbersideA1(M)Walshford—Dishforth11313·1
Yorkshire and HumbersideA65Burley in Wharfdale bypass91·8
Yorkshire and HumbersideA65Gargrave bypass73·7
West MidlandsA45Stonebridge grade separated junction121·3
West MidlandsA50Blythe bridge—Queensway (Phase 1)733·0
West MidlandsA435Norton—Lenchwick bypass247·5
East MidlandsA17Leadenham bypass36·0
East MidlandsA17Wigtoft—Sutterton73·0
East MidlandsA52Ashbourne relief road41·6
EasternAllBesthorpe—Wymondham improvement255·4
EasternAllStump cross—Fourwentways improvement283·4
EasternA12Lowestoft eastern relief road10·8
EasternA47Walpole—Tilney high end bypass236·2
EasternA140Scole—Dickleburgh121·3
EasternA428Bedford southern bypass515·4
EasternM40Junction 1A–3 widening557·5
LondonA12Hackney—M11 (Contracts 2 and 4)1222·4
LondonA13Cotton street80·6
LondonA13Butcher row10·1
LondonA13Heathway—Thames avenue545·0
LondonA13Thames avenue—Wennington583·1
LondonA40Long lane—West end road widening41·5
LondonA406East of Falloden way421·4
LondonA406Dysons road631·5
LondonM1Junction 150·4
South EastA27Patching junction improvement111·6
South EastA249North of Iwade—M2 improvement477·0
South EastA303Bullington cross42·5
South EastM25Junctions 10–11 widening364·8
South EastM25Junctions 7–8 widening323·1
SouthwestA30Shallowater hill21·3
South WestA30Indian queens, Fraddon, St. Columb road bypass215·3
SouthWestA31Ashley heath grade separated junction111·0
South WestA46Batheaston—Swainswick bypass513·3
South WestA417Brockworth bypass323·3
SouthWestM5J18 improvement and Avonmouth relief road131·0
TOTALS41 Schemes1,148141·6

1 Including VAT.

funding will be in place in 1993–94 to avoid deteriorating road conditions, as well as ensuring that the programme of bridge strengthening remains on course. Higher expenditure on maintenance will also mean that the latest techniques of traffic management can be applied to minimise delays to the road user.

The levels of investment that I am announcing today will continue to meet the needs of business and the community and provide the right conditions for economic growth. In addition, I shall be publishing a Green Paper on the basis for charging for the use of inter-urban roads which will also examine the scope for attracting more private finance.

Following are the schemes:

The statement today announcing billions of pounds of investment on the roads, welcome though it may be in certain areas and perhaps in producing extra jobs, contrasts vividly with this week's statement on British Rail. That announced that, in the same year as this increase in roads investment will occur, British Rail investment will be cut by half, causing thousands of redundancies in the railway industry and the manufacturing industries that are dependent on it.

Does the right hon. Gentleman have an assessment of the job gains and losses in those areas? May we be assured that it will be full-time labour for full-time work and not the work gang dole labour which the Prime Minister has now discovered?

Does the Secretary of State accept that this policy sounds the death knell for the Government's commitment, given at the Rio summit, to reduce exhaust gas emissions, which requires the very opposite strategy to that which he is adopting, to encourage the greater use of public transport?

Does he accept that the Department's estimate of traffic growth, of 140 per cent. in 25 years, will require a motorway of 270 lanes from London to Edinburgh—just to park the vehicles? Is he aware, and will he make it clear, that we cannot possibly build our way out of this environmental disaster based on that kind of policy?

Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to continue adding to the road congestion, considering his announcements this week, by forcing British Rail to move hundreds of thousands of lorry loads of rail freight on to the roads? Does he really believe that his programme will relieve bottlenecks in London? Would it not be better to scrap the silly proposal to deregulate London Buses and finance alternative rail projects such as crossrail, Network SouthEast and Paddington-Heathrow and encourage people to use public transport more, rather than private vehicles which add to the congestion?

When can we expect publication of the Green Paper on road pricing and private finance? Is he aware that the private financing of the recently opened £100 million QEII bridge at Dartford is encouraging, with the growth of mega-shopping centres on either side of the bridge, a demand to build 14 lanes on the M25, at a cost of billions of pounds, to encourage people to take shopping trips on what is our most strategic motorway? That is not an intelligent use of public resources.

Is it not a fact that the right hon. Gentleman's policy will force people off public transport and into private road car transport, thereby providing a new, massive finance tax for the Treasury at the expense of the environment and adding to congestion on the transport system?

The hon. Gentleman is wrong on every count, and I am sure that the country will note his extremely grudging welcome—he could hardly get a word of welcome out—for our record road programme. There are communities and businesses all over the country and hon. Members in all parts of the House who have been pressing for it and will warmly welcome it.

The hon. Gentleman referred to British Rail investment being cut by half. He will know that next year, British Rail's investment will be at record levels—[Interruption.] —or certainly higher than at any time in the last 30 years.

In 1993–94. That is, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the anticipated level of investment in British Rail next year.

Bearing in mind that 90 per cent. of all passenger and freight traffic goes by road, the levels of investment that we are proposing for the roads, national and local, next year amounts to £2·9 billion compared with £2·2 billion on public transport, and local authority public transport gains from the benefits of the road programme. So to suggest that we are putting the entire emphasis on the road programme and not on public transport is completely and wholly wrong and is not borne out by the figures.

The hon. Gentleman says that I have just proved it, so I will give him the figures again. They are £2·9 billion on roads, including roads which benefit public transport, and £2·2 billion on public transport, given that 90 per cent. of all traffic goes on roads. I should have thought it clear that we are doing a great deal for public transport.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the environmental disadvantages. He should know that there are substantial environmental advantages from taking traffic out of towns and villages through our bypass programme, and that enabling traffic to move at proper levels, instead of at congested levels, improves exhaust gas emissions. He ought also to know what we are doing with catalytic converters and in all sorts of other ways to improve that. The hon. Gentleman does not understand that what creates the traffic forecasts and traffic growth is economic growth itself which inevitably creates more freight, traffic and, inevitably, more people wishing to use more cars and to use them to their own benefit on the roads. It is to that we are responding which is why I say I believe the programme I have announced today will receive a wide welcome from industry which is constantly pressing for it, and from car passengers.

It is not me who has not got a clue, it is the hon. Gentleman who is way out of touch with reality. Finally, can I say to him on London—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman just cannot face up to the facts. Let me turn to London. He talked about the London position. May I point out to him that the red route programme that we are introducing will greatly assist public transport in itself and has led to an increase in public transport in the pilot areas because it has helped to deal with congestion. When the hon. Member looks at the figures for London next year he will see that for every pound we are spending on the road programme, which is very important for docklands, for the north circular and for easing congestion in central London, we are spending £3 on public transport in London.

Will the Secretary of State ignore the over-rehearsed carping from the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and understand that his record announcement today will be warmly received right through the country, but not least in Cumbria where the improvement to the A66 road, which he has announced, will do a great deal to eliminate an appalling length of that road which I think he knows himself? It is essential to improve that piece of road to link Cumbria with the east coast.

I wonder if my right hon. Friend will help me over one thing? There is a certain amount of misunderstanding as to whether the programe that he has announced will result in linking the Brough bypass with the newly-opened long stretch of dual carriageway over Bowes Moor and Stainmore. There is some doubt about this. Will he confirm that the new road will link those two existing bits of dual carriageway?

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend both for his general comments and for his specific welcome for the inclusion in the programme, as I said in my statement, of another scheme for the northern trans-Pennine route. I know that route well and was driving on it myself last Sunday evening. I therefore know how important it is that we have been able to carry through major improvements to that road. It is very important for business and to everyone who moves along that road, not least because the road has had a poor accident record and this will help to deal with it. I am happy to confirm that the project I have announced today will complete the dual section between Brough and Bowes.

I welcome the announcement made today, particularly for its effects on jobs, but is it not the case that it just gives detail to commitments already made in the autumn statement and that it is not quite the bonanza it is portrayed as, particularly as people in the northern region will be less than delighted to see only 3·7 miles of new road there, with no moves to improve the A1 between Newcastle and Edinburgh? I wonder whether it is quite as green as the Secretary of State would have us believe. Will not widening the M25 simply make it easier to get into logjams rather than relieving them, and bring more development pressure on the green belt area instead of regenerating the inner city?

I note the astonishingly grudging approach of the Liberal party. I wish the hon. Member would make up his mind whether he wants the improvements on the M25 or not; whether he wants the expanded road programme or not. He seems to reject some but to demand more in other areas. May I tell him that the improvements that I have announced to the Al to bring it up to motorway standard on a priority section. Clearly not all of it can be done at once and much is still going through statutory procedures, but the improvement that I have announced will be warmly welcomed by people from the north who travel on that road, particularly road hauliers and so on. It is very important for them. Jobs are a very important aspect of the programme I have announced today which will involve more than 30,000 jobs in the construction industry.

There is no doubt that one of the priorities that we need to deal with now is the M25, on environmental and other grounds which involve congestion, not least for businesses in the north and Scotland wishing to take advantage of the single market by going through the channel tunnel.

Would my right hon. Friend care to comment on the A6M—M56 scheme, which runs through my constituency? The House will note that the announcement refers only to the central section. While I welcome today's announcement, which is of great benefit to jobs and the relief of many villages, the central section is to be built four years ahead of the rest only because of private money from a local developer. I and my constituents support the completion of the whole scheme, which would give great relief to the villages of Bramhall and Woodford in my constituency. As only the central section of the scheme is being built, those villages will suffer from increased car movements. I urge my right hon. Friend to complete the rest of the scheme as soon as possible.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He refers to the first of three linked projects to relieve congestion in the south of the Greater Manchester conurbation and to provide a link road to Manchester airport. A number of schemes cannot yet go ahead as they are still subject to statutory procedures. It is the intention to complete the scheme, and I am sure that he will welcome the major start this coming year.

Is the Secretary of State aware that his proposals for the widening of the M25, the north circular and the A1 3 will increase road traffic, congestion and pollution in London and lower the environmental standards of our already overcrowded capital city? Is it not time that he took a real look at the transport needs of London and put real investment into the public transport infrastructure, lowering fares and developing new schemes such as the crossrail, which is so desperately needed to relieve congestion in this city?

The hon. Gentleman ought to realise that improving the M25-and its very existence—removes traffic from London. The M25 has taken about 25 per cent. of the traffic out of London and improving it, to prevent drivers looking for other routes, undoubtedly helps residents, helps with problems in central London and so on. These announcements are important for London and the hon. Gentleman is not right to suggest that through them we are diminishing the importance of investment in public transport. As I said, for every £1 being spent on road projects in London, £3 is being spent on public transport.

Is not it necessary for any Transport Secretary to have a policy of investment in all forms of transport infrastructure? Is the Secretary of State not therefore assured of a welcome from dispassionate minded people for his statement this afternoon? Can he confirm that the A31 Ashley Heath junction in Dorset in my constituency is included in his scheme? Will he nevertheless bear in mind that it is perhaps only wishful thinking that reminds some of my constituents that that junction is built on the site of the former Ringwood-Wimborne railway line? My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling), in his reference to Stainmore, welcomes a road being built on another railway line. Even at this stage, will the Secretary of State consider imposing a ban on the sale of disused track bed so that we do not destroy future possible transport options?

I noticed my hon. Friend's welcome, at the beginning of his question about a balanced infrastructure programme, which is what we are achieving. I can confirm, and I hope that he will welcome this warmly, that the Ashley Heath new grade separated junction is being included among schemes next year. He refers to the fact that it is on an old railway line, but we must take into account that a considerable number of railway lines have ceased to have custom and that it therefore makes sense to make use of them, wherever possible, for road projects. I hope that he will not ignore the importance of that.

While many people in the north-west will welcome the statement about the extension of the M65 from Blackburn to the M6, can the Secretary of State take the opportunity to end damaging speculation about the possible extension of the M65 eastwards over the Pennines? He will appreciate that it finishes in Colne in my constituency and that that has sterilised many acres of land there for far too long.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the Pennine study is a very important one. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary has indicated one route that we would wish to exclude from it. We are considering the study and obviously wish to come to decisions as quickly as is practicable.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that Bedford is the largest town in England that has not been bypassed? Does he realise that this is paralysing business and the movement of traffic across the river? This is a very urgent matter indeed and I hope that he can do something to expedite it.

I am very pleased to tell my hon. Friend that the Bedford southern bypass is being included in the programme next year. It will be a dual carriageway bypass, at a total cost of £51 million.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the only aspect of his statement that I welcome is the statement in relation to bypasses? Is he aware that I have been trying to get bypasses at Girvan, Maybole, New Cumnock and Mauchline for many years—

Order. We are well aware that that is not included in the statement. Hon. Members must question the Secretary of State precisely on the statement, not on wishful thinking as to what might happen in the future.

That is precisely the point, because what I want to ask the Secretary of State is whether he, as a member of the Cabinet, knows when Scottish Members will get a statement about the roads programme in Scotland? When will we be able to ask questions about—

Order. The hon. Gentleman is questioning the wrong Minister on these issues.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the great majority of the people of this country, unlike Opposition Members, well understand that, however much we improve the railways, it is essential to continue the development of the roads on the lines that he has described? Will my right hon. Friend undertake to ensure, wherever possible, that the management of individual road development projects is conducted in such a way as to retain the maximum speed of development, so that the disruption to local residents is kept to the minimum? Secondly, will my right hon. Friend use, wherever possible, the noise reduction aids that are increasingly available, such as porous asphalt?

My hon. Friend makes two very important points and I can assure him that we endeavour to complete the schemes with a minimum of disruption to those who are affected. Indeed, the record of construction in this country shows that we are one of the fastest in the world in completing the construction of roads. I can also tell him that, with the programme so heavily focused on the widening of motorways and bypasses, not new roads, there is much less disruption to a whole range of people who would have been affected by the construction of new roads. Widening existing motorways helps very much with that. On his second point, about asphalt, yes, we are endeavouring to use it wherever possible, and it will obviously be looked at in the case of a scheme which is coming in his constituency.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that he has not announced any proposals to improve the road or rail communications between Sheffield and Manchester? These are two major cities in this country. The communications between them are appalling, and this is bad for business. Can he tell the House whether he has any plans to improve this situation in the future and whether, as part of his statement, he will give a commitment to start funding the planning process to ensure that communications are improved?

The communications to which the hon. Gentleman refers are contained in the trans-Pennine study. That was a major study and we are now looking at it very carefully. There are also, as he will know, improvements going on to the M62.

While, as a London Member, tending to prefer railway development at the moment, I very much welcome what the Secretary of State said about bypasses in so many parts of the country. I am particularly after one to bypass Malden Rushett, in my constituency. Can he assure the House that the aggregates that will be used in this particularly valuable work of road building and bridge maintenance throughout the country will come from our own resources, from marine and land-based resources, and certainly not from abroad, which would of course do considerable damage to our balance of payments?

On my hon. Friend's first point, as it is very important to get the balance clear, it is worth stressing that in the coming financial year London Transport and Network SouthEast are expected to invest nearly three times as much as the Department will spend on the construction and capital maintenance of roads in London.

With regard to my hon. Friend's second point, I have to say that there are competitive elements that contractors have to take into account. However, so far as I am aware, the vast bulk of aggregates come from here.

I welcome the Secretary of State's statement. Will the plans that he has announced lead to upgrading of the route between Seaforth and Hull and, therefore, to widening of the choice of routes to Europe?

Nothing in my right hon. Friend's statement will be more welcome than his announcement that a bypass is to be provided at Scole, on the Norfolk-Suffolk border, which he and I know very well. There is immense pressure on the roads in East Anglia. This arises from commercial as well as holiday traffic. There will be delight that the great disruption that occurs in the area throughout the year—but particularly at holiday times—is to be cured. I urge my right hon. Friend to do all he can, in the slightly longer term, to have the A140 dualled from one end to the other.

I know that my hon. Friend is closely interested in this road, as, indeed, I am. I am aware also of his interest in the A140, which goes through his constituency. He knows that that matter is being examined at the moment by consultants, as the first stage in the whole process. On the question of the Scole bypass, which is in the programme for next year, my hon. Friend will know that in December I made an announcement about the local authority aspect. I am glad to be able to confirm now that the trunk road aspect will be completed at the same time. My hon. Friend is quite right in saying that this will be warmly welcomed.

While the announcement that the M65 is to be linked to the M6 and the national motorway network is extremely welcome news for Burnley and north-east Lancashire, are there any plans for associated steps to improve the M6 between the M61 and the M55-a length of road whose capacity is becoming increasingly overstretched?

There is a programme in respect of this matter. If I may, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about the specific points he has raised.

Can the Secretary of State confirm that the representations made to him by myself, the borough council of King's Lynn and West Norfolk and the local business community that the A47 at Walpole-Tilney bypass should be started have been listened to and that the project will go ahead? Can he tell the House when draft orders in respect of the flyover at the Hardwick roundabout will be issued?

My hon. Friend and I have corresponded and talked on a number of occasions about the second point that he raised, and he knows that it was raised with me recently when I paid a visit to his constituency. As he knows, there have been technical delays in respect of the orders. The position has not changed since the last time we talked, but I shall continue to watch it very carefully.

I can confirm that the Walpole-Tilney High End bypass is included in next year's programme. The total cost of the scheme will be £23 million. It is a further development of the upgrading of the A47 to dual carriageway status. I know how important it is to everyone in Norfolk that that upgrading should continue so that the routes from Norfolk to the midlands may be developed in the same way as the routes to London and the south-east, which are being very substantially developed at the moment.

I note that, of the £1·1 billion expenditure that the Secretary of State announced today, only £11 million will be spent on the northern region. That is a matter about which I have some concern. My concern would be lessened if the Government were to make available to British Rail the money that it needs to upgrade the west coast main line. If communications in the north of England are to be improved, that line must be upgraded.

We discussed those matters on Tuesday. On a quick count, the figure for the northern region is £11 million, but for the north-west, which the west coast mainline also affects, the figure is a good deal higher.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents, including Labour voters—I know, because they tell me so—fully understand the importance for jobs and economic growth of the new road programme? They will have taken careful note of the hostility of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) to the package of road building. As my constituency has one of the highest unemployment rates in the south-east of England—indeed, in the country—my right hon. Friend will know of the tremendous welcome that there will be in my district for the dualling of the A249 from the motorway through to Kingsferry bridge. I express my thanks for that decision after so many years of waiting. Will my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic continue the help and encouragement that they are giving to the joint public and private sector project for the development of the second Swale crossing, which continues the A249 to the Isle of Sheppey?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and should like to pay tribute to the work that he has done in frequently pressing for the scheme. He and I have had a number of exchanges on the scheme, and I am well aware of its importance to his constituency and his part of the world. The total cost of the scheme is £47 million. On my hon. Friend's second point, I assure him that my hon. Friend the Minister and I will continue to pursue the project that he mentioned, although I cannot make any promises.